Why “a Pair of Turtledoves or Two Young Pigeons” Were Needed to Rescue Jesus?

The Law commanded poorer couples to offer at least “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Lk 2:24) as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Newsdesk (05/02/2023 7:14 PM, Gaudium Press) Regarding the Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of Mary, commentators make beautiful reflections on the event by analyzing its various aspects, but in this article, we shall dwell only on one detail full of meaning.

The Law commanded poorer couples to offer at least “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Lk 2:24) as a sacrifice to the Lord. And it is not by chance that these two birds were prescribed.

St. Cyril explains that the turtledove is the more loquacious of the two and the dove more meek. Our Lord wished thus to symbolize that He would practice on this earth the most perfect meekness and would make His harmonious voice resound to draw the world to His merciful Heart.

St. Bede, for his part, reflects on the virtues that these birds represent: the pigeon, simplicity; the turtledove, chastity. If the turtledove should lose its mate, it will not go in search of another. Already in the first days of His life on earth, Christ wished to show His predilection for the virtue of purity through these two little creatures

Another beautiful symbolism lies in the fact that, since the pigeon is gregarious, it represents the active life, while the turtledove, because it lives alone, evokes contemplation. However, this isolation, together with its loquacity, makes it the image of preaching and the confession of faith. Both modes of life were practiced by the Saviour and lead, each in its own way, to the sanctification of men.

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St. Bede further points out that these two animals, by their habit of cooing, express the lamentations of the saints on this earth. The turtledove symbolizes the hidden tears of prayer; the pigeon, living in flocks, is the figure of the public prayers of the Church.

In his Gospel, however, St. Luke does not say whether the animals offered to the Lord by the Holy Family were turtledoves or pigeons… Thus, according to St. Bede, the Holy Spirit is implying that we should not give preference to the contemplative life to the exclusion of the active, or vice versa, since both are pleasing to God and we ought to follow both.

Nevertheless, let us bear in mind that the turtledoves or pigeons offered for the Child Jesus, before being delivered into the hands of the priest, rested in the hands of the Patriarch St. Joseph and fell under the serene gaze of the Virgin Mary. This invites us to desire to live always under the custody and support of this most holy couple, for in this way our existence, though poor in merits and virtues, will be a most pleasing offering of adoration and praise

Text taken, with minor adaptation, from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel, n. 230, February 2021.

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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